Ingredients 101 – Grocery Guide

Your ingredients 101 – grocery store guide includes two lists: Healthy Ingredients to Include and Ingredients to Avoid. This list is not intended to be a “rule” so much as a “guide.” We should not be after extremes or perfection. We should only be trying to find that balance, which requires becoming informed on common ingredients. This is simply a guide so that you can make an informed choice.

If these ingredients are unfamiliar to you, start with small steps. Try a few new things at a time. A golden rule is to always look at the ingredients list, and start to familiarize yourself with the terms. Make a habit of label reading, choosing products with the fewest ingredients as that is usually the healthier choice.

Be sure to “like” my Facebook page (to the right) to get daily information, and subscribe to never miss a post! To purchase some of the ingredients discussed in this post, click on the highlighted links. To see the entire Wholesome Style Store, loaded with some of my favorite products, click here.

 

INGREDIENTS TO AVOID

 

FAT FREE & LOWFAT

These labels are most likely full of fillers, preservatives, chemicals, and artificial sweeteners. Do not be afraid of fat and calories. Get the healthier, full-fat version and enjoy your food.

 

rBGH & rBST

Found in dairy, Bovine somatotropin (BST) is a protein hormone naturally produced in the pituitary glands of cattle. Monsanto developed a recombinant version, rBST, by using a genetically engineered E. coli bacteria. Sold under the brand name “Posilac,” it is injected into cows to boost milk output in the short term. This practice is coming under increasing scrutiny. rBST is also known as rBGH (recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone).

 

NITRITES & NITRATES

Found in many meats, specifically hot dogs, salami, pepperoni and most cured meats. This ingredient is cancer causing and should be avoided.

 

MSG

MSG shows up under an absurd number of names, but most commonly known as Monosodium Glutamate. If you see Monosodium Glutamate in the ingredient, avoid it. Autolyzed (yeast), Hydrolyzed, Yeast Protein are a few terms you will see and are more natural forms of Glutamate, but are still additives. There is debate as to how good these are for you and many who claim they are perfectly healthy. MSG is added as a flavor enhancer (think addictive Doritos) and it is in many foods.

 

ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS

Avoid all artificial sweeteners such as Equal, Nutrasweet, Aspartame, and Splenda. See my Healthy Ingredients To Include list below for sweeteners that I recommend.

 

ARTIFICIAL COLORS

Petroleum based and shown to cause hyper-activity in children. This is an interesting ingredient because it is one that American companies often add here in the USA to many foods, but in those same foods that are sold in other countries, they use a healthier ingredient and are required to label a warning.

 

ARTIFICIAL FLAVORS

 

GMO FOODS (Genetically Modified Organisms)

Top GMO crops are Soy/Soybean Oil, Sugar Beets, Papaya, Canola Oil, Corn (all corn syrup), Cotton, Alfalfa, and Aspartame. I am very leery of genetically modified food. Studies have shown that GMO’s wreak havoc on our digestive system causing inflammation which translates into a number of other disorders and diseases. Can our bodies handle a little GMO food to some degree? Probably, but the problem is that most of the food we eat contains one or more GMO ingredients. We are literally eating GMO food all day long, every day. The makers of GMO food (Monsanto) have very deep pockets, are very influential, and are placed at the very highest ranks of the FDA. To be touted as “safe” does not sit well with me under these circumstances. Avoiding soybean oil and corn syrup , soybean oil, canola oil is a very good place to start. Look for “Non GMO” label on food packages and vote with your wallet on this one.

 

SOY

Unless this states as being 100% Organic, this is almost guaranteed to be a GMO product.

 

HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP

 

HYDROGENATED/PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED OILS

 

VEGETABLE, SOYBEAN, & CANOLA OIL

These are almost always GMO products and some of these oils cause inflammation in the body (high in Omega 6 fatty acids). Also, these were previously thought to be  “heart healthy” oils, but are now considered to be causing heart disease due to the oxidation of the oils during the production process. See below for healthier oil options.

 

BHT

Found in many cereals/packaging.

 

 

HEALTHY INGREDIENTS TO INCLUDE

 

MEATS & FISH

You do not need meat in every meal, and if you are looking for protein, look to beans or quinoa as a healthier alternative to meat. Avoid nitrites/nitrates as they are cancer causing and will be found in most commercial meats such as hot dogs, salami, pepperoni, deli meat, and most cured meats.

Choose real, minimally processed meat and avoid those that have been treated with hormones or antibiotics (it should say so on the label). Look for “grass-fed” and no hormones or antibiotics. I see many brands offered now offered at BJ’s and Super Walmart that are affordable such as hot dogs, salami, pepperoni, and bacon to name a few.

Look for “wild-caught” and not “farm-raised” when purchasing fish.

 

FRUITS & VEGETABLES

Eating as many fruits vegetables as possible (usually best in its rawest form) in place of other foods is the healthiest habit we can have. Be mindful of color. The more color variety from fruits and vegetables the better, as color represents different vitamins, mineral and nutrients. School lunches should always have some fruit and some veggies. Think apples, almonds, seeds, banana, carrot sticks, cucumber sticks, celery sticks, grapes, berries, dried fruit, easy-peel tangerines. These can be prepped ahead so that lunch packing is fast and full of nutrition for your loved one. Skip the animal crackers and pretzels when possible, it is offering little to no value in terms of health, but now and then is certainly fine. Just do not make them the staple of your snack options.

If you or your kids are not a fan of veggies, add a smoothie or two to your daily routine. Spinach literally melts away in a blender if blended long enough. Add a banana, a cup of frozen spinach and some ice or frozen fruit to make it taste even better. Your vegetable-hating kids and toddlers will chug it! I promise you. Blend it really well.

For added nutrition, Shakeology is a supplement that I take every day. It is the best meal replacement shake I have ever seen, is non-gmo, has all the super foods and nutrient dense supplements I used to buy separately all in one scoop. I make one giant blender-full with spinach, banana, ice, and a full scoop of Shakeology and split that between my whole family of four. I do not have to buy any other vitamins or supplements….it has it all.  Learn more or buy it now if interested.

 

DAIRY

Avoid low-fat and fat-free and again, look for organic, free-range, and grass-fed. Avoid rBST and rBGH. Bovine somatotropin (BST) is a protein hormone naturally produced in the pituitary glands of cattle. Monsanto developed a recombinant version, rBST, by using a genetically engineered E. coli bacteria. Sold under the brand name “Posilac,” it is injected into cows to boost milk output in the short term. This practice is coming under increasing scrutiny. rBST is also known as rBGH (recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone).

  • Milk – Buy regular, whole milk. Always. If you like low-fat or skim milk, add your own water to thin it out to the desired consistency. It is much healthier and saves you a ton of money (it’s like getting two for the price of one and I am able to purchase organic milk by doing this method). Keep a clean, empty gallon on hand for this purpose.
  • Cheese – Buy whole-fat, unprocessed, real white cheese. Aged cheese is healthiest. Ingredients should be limited to milk, enzymes, and salt for the most part. Yellow cheese is colored with Annato extract which is a top food allergen according to the FDA. It is a natural occurring food dye, so it can still be marketed as 100% natural. I do not know that it is unhealthy, but I personally do need need my cheese to be yellow so I avoid it.
  • Butter – Use REAL butter. No margarine, Parkay, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, etc., as those are chemical laden. I will be posting more in depth information on butter choices and saturated fats.

 

GRAINS

  • Sourdough is the healthiest choice for bread and must be properly fermented which lessens the gluten content drastically. Being fermented, it has additional benefits (see Fermented Foods below).
  • Sprouted grain bread is another healthier bread choice. Many would argue that 100% whole grain is the best choice. It is certainly a better choice when compared to many of the options we have, but I believe many people are unknowingly experiencing health issues due to the grains in their diet. More to come on that topic.
  • Wheat and corn can be difficult to digest and are often the cause of a number of health conditions that you may be experiencing without realizing wheat is the culprit. An easy thing to try if you want to test whether wheat is bothering you, is to buy a “quality” sourdough bread and eat that and/or gluten free for a few weeks. Oatmeal, gluten free cereal, gluten free pasta…many options to try and I highly recommend it for a month.
  • Sprouted Grains – Amazing for you. Look for items made from sprouted grains.
  • Gluten Free – Corn, Millet, Rice, Sorghum, Quinoa, Amaranth, Buckwheat, and Oats. I will be posting more on the best choices as some of these grains are not ideal, and some are amazing for you such as amaranth and quinoa. Oats are inherently gluten-free, but are frequently contaminated with wheat during growing or processing. For certified gluten-free oats, click here.

See my Gluten-free Tortilla & Burrito Wrap Recipe or my Quick Dough for Bread & Pizza recipe.

 

FERMENTED FOODS

Fermented foods, specifically traditionally lacto-fermented, are some of the healthiest foods we can eat to support our digestive system. They contain beneficial probiotics, digestive enzymes, and health boosting nutrients. Kefir, Kombucha, unpasteurized olives, pickles, grass-fed cheese, wine, greek yogurt, and sauerkraut are a few examples. The problem is that many of these products sold in stores are pasteurized, which kills the beneficial bacteria, offering little to no benefits. You can make your own for best results (I will post a how-to tutorial soon). Generally, the tangier and stronger the flavor (aside from added jalapeño or other spicy flavorings), the more likely that the food will still have active and beneficial lactobacteria.

 

HEALTHY OILS

I love a Misto Sprayer. It offers you a spray option for oils and other liquids (such as lemon juice, balsamic vinegar), so you use much less than if pouring or drizzling, and is an excellent choice if trying to cut calories. I also am thrilled to see how long a bottle of olive now lasts me. This thing paid for itself right away.

  • Coconut Oil – I use coconut oil almost exclusively. Try to get one that is organic, unbleached and unrefined, but almost any brand is fine and highly beneficial regardless of those terms. It does not oxidize like other oils and can withstand high temps without oxidizing. It is one of the most medicinal foods around.
  • Olive oil is best used at low temps or added after the high heat cooking portion is almost over. For non-stick purposes you are better off using a coconut oil.
  • Flax Oil
  • Avocado Oil
  • Ghee
  • Butter – Use REAL butter. No margarine, Parkay, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, etc., as those are chemical laden. I will be posting more in depth information on butter choices and saturated fats.
  • *Reminder – No Vegetable, Canola, Soybean or Crisco

 

SEEDS & NUTS

Get as many different variety of seeds and nuts as you can into your diet. Sprinkle on salads for some extra crunch, or top your oatmeal and yogurt.

 

SALT

I am a Pink Himalayan Salt fan. It has a beautiful pink color and is stated to have over 80 essential minerals and trace elements found within the human body. What you do not want is the tiny, white sodium chloride table salt that most people find at the table.

 

SPROUTS

Sprout your own from seeds or purchase for a powerhouse of nutrition that is hard to match. Put on salads, blend in a green drink or smoothie, add to a sandwich. Try to incorporate sprouts in your day a few times a week.

 

SWEETENERS

Use real, raw sugar (most is GMO so you want the 100% certified organic), Palm sugar, Stevia (Truvia is processed, but better than regular white sugar and it is zero calorie sweetener), Raw Honey is amazing and would be my first choice as it has medicinal properties.

 

ORGANIC

Ideally, for all foods and products it is best to buy 100% Certified Organic which (almost) eliminates the need to know what ingredients to avoid. Since many people cannot afford to do that, it is important to know how to read labels. I am finding that BJ’s, Walmart, and many other stores are offering more affordable organic options.

Organic labeling terms to know:

  • 100% Certified Organic – 100% of all ingredients in the product are organic. The USDA Organic Seal can be used.
  • Organic –  95% of all ingredients in the product are organic. The USDA Organic Seal can be used.
  • Made With Organic Ingredients – 70% of all ingredients in the product are organic. The USDA Organic Seal cannot be used.

 

FREE-RANGE & GRASS-FED

This is typically a costlier choice, but if you can, you want to see this on the label for your meats and dairy including cheese, milk and eggs. Finding a local co-op or farmer to buy directly from is a good option to look into. Craigslist is another area where you may find resources for these items. I am impressed with the variety of organic foods available at places like BJ’s and Super Walmart.

To purchase some of the ingredients discussed in this post, click on the highlighted links. To see the entire Wholesome Style Store, loaded with some of my favorite products, click here.

 Be sure to “like” my Facebook page (to the top right of page) to get daily information, and subscribe to never miss a post! 

Final thoughts…eating healthier is an easy fix by becoming more informed and taking a little extra time to check ingredients. I want to help you navigate through the grocery store with ease and peace of mind that what you put into your cart, may not always be perfect (hopefully it is not always perfect because the goal here is balance, which means not feeling deprived or restricted), but it will be an informed choice so that you can have a healthy balance if that is your desire.  If you do not have and know the information, you do not have the ability to have a healthy balance, and despite your best efforts, your body will be off-balance for lack of a better term.

What is becoming increasingly apparent, is that people really do want to have access to healthier food and feel frustration when they feel mislead by a food company that markets food as “all natural,” or other comparable claims. With this awareness of ingredient information, people are demanding change in the food industry by “voting” with their wallets and not buying the products that contain harmful ingredients. Best rule I know of…always choose the option with the fewest ingredients.  If this is new to you, then go to the store alone without your kids so that the first few times you can take the time to read labels. It can be frustrating at first, but so worth it! It is a process, so take one thing at a time. Stay close to your comfort zone, but never stop challenging yourself to try a healthier alternative.

Posts may contain affiliate links. If you purchase a product through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same, but Wholesome Style will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated and allows me to continue to inspire and encourage better health for you and yours.

 

 

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